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Schunemunk Mountain
Orange County, New York
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State Park

Cornwall, Orange County, New York

Schunemunk Mountain is a 1664-foot high, eight-mile long, three-mile wide ridge of rock rising up south of Newburgh. Between Cornwall and Woodbury, the NYS Thruway runs through a narrow valley east of this massive mountain, and NY 17 traverses its southern end. This long, narrow ridge aligns to the southwest, where it connects with a longer fold of Appalachian ridges extending 40 miles southwest into New Jersey. To the west of Schunemunk's northern tip is the smaller Woodcock Hill.
Dwarf Pitch Pine
stunted on the summit

PHOTO FBreglia 3/2/02

The name Schunemunk (pronounced "shun-uh-munk") is an indigenous word that means "excellent fireplace" in the Algonquin tongue of the Leni Lenape (Delaware) tribe that originally inhabited the area.

Geologically, Schunemunk Mountain is distinct from the older Hudson Highlands to the east. This ridge of hard, upthrust rock is composed of younger sandstone and shale of Silurian and Ordovician eras, and crowned with a harder conglomerate from Devonian strata called "puddingstone." The conglomerate ledges conspicuous on Schunemunk's long, level summit are stained a reddish-purple by an iron-enriched hematite matrix that encloses white quartz pebbles up to six inches in diameter. The embedded quartzite stones are remnants of beaches and deltas eroded from the older Taconic Highlands to the east. When Africa collided with North America, lateral pressure deformed the American bedrock into a series of folds complicated by longitudinal and cross-faulting. Schunemunk's northern end is cleft by a fault, which creates a double crest, with densely wooded Barton Swamp in the resulting depression—a relatively sheltered space whose moist soils are the most favorable growing environment on most of the mountain.
Schunemunk Mountain
from northeast summit looking toward Hudson River
Cornwall, Orange County, New York

PHOTO FBreglia 3/2/02

Most of Schunemunk Mountain is covered with a thin forest of pitch pine, assorted oaks and rhododendron, with occasional black tupelo, hemlock, maples, birches, black cherry, and other hardwoods. The thin, poor soils and exposure to harsh weather retards the growth of vegetation, so trees are short, stunted and gnarly, especially on the summit.

Schunemunk Mountain is within the Appalachian Trail system, and lies on The Long Trail that runs from the Delaware Water Gap north to Saratoga Springs. Schunemunk has over 25 miles of hiking trails with numerous viewpoints that offer opportunities to walk the ridges, view cascading streams and investigate megaliths. Schunemunk's trail heads are easily accessed from three points:

  • on the southwest from NY 17 (Exit 129, Orange-Rockland Lakes)
  • on the south from NY 32 (The Long Path, from the railroad trestle in Woodbury)
  • on the northeast (Jessup Trail, from Taylor Road off Pleasant Hill Road in Mountainville)

    Trail heads are served by Short Line buses from New York City's Port Authority Terminal, making Schunemunk a popular hiking destination for City residents. Trails are maintained and mapped by the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference (G.P.O. 2250, New York, NY 10116; 212-685-4699; www.nynjtc.org).
    Schunemunk Survey Team
    March 2, 2002

    PHOTO: DYarrow 3/2/02

    from left: Erica, Neil Pederson, Pat Hines,
    Lou Sebesta, Fred Breglia

    To preserve this magnificent ridge from development, Mountainville Conservancy was organized by a coalition of industry, foundation and arts leaders. In 1996, the 2,100 acre Preserve was purchased by the Open Space Institute, with a grant from the Lila Acheson & DeWitt Wallace Fund for the Hudson Highlands. On March 2, 2001, after protracted lobbying by environmental groups, including the New York City chapter of the Adirondack Club and New York-New Jersey Trail Conference, NY Governor George Pataki dedicated Schunemunk Mountain Preserve as a new state park.

    Old Growth Survey
    March 2, 2002

    Saturday, March 2, a six-person team ascended the northeast face of Schunemunk along a hemlock-shaded ravine etched by Baby Brook, whose source is Barton Swamp on the mountaintop. Schunnemunk's lower slopes are thinly clothed in small, gnarly oaks and rhododendron, with a mixture of pitch pine and other hardwoods. Fed by numerous copious springs, Barton Swamp lies in a slight depression in Schunnemunk's summit, and runs in a narrow cove longitudinally along a mile of the east summit. In this sheltered cove, the soil has accumulated a rich, thick humus, and provides shelter from severe winds and storms. The swamp assures a steady supply of moisture, and this protected environment permits an enhanced growth of vegetation. The upper slopes and summit show few signs of logging beyond a few coppiced oaks.
    Tulip Poplar
    note balding bark on trunk base

    PHOTO DYarrow 3/2/02

    Numerous fair-sized red and white oaks and pitch pine were found growing in the cove. Also a few sugar maples and yellow birch. The team measured several specimen trees, and took tree ring cores for later study. One lofty black tupelo with a twisted, knobby crown was cored, but proved to be hollow.
    Neil Pederson
    examines a tree ring core

    PHOTO DYarrow 3/2/02

    The scattered pitch pine on Schunnemunk's crown are small and stunted, growing in thin, gnarly shapes due to the extreme wearther biuffting the peak. Although these trees are quite small, they are very likely of great age—at least 100 years, perhaps more. This type of "edaphic" old growth forest is quite common on mountaintops in the Catskill, Adirondack and Taconic Mountains.
    Coring a Yellow Birch
    note balding bark

    PHOTO DYarrow 3/2/02

    The Earth Restoration and Reforestation Alliance
    www.championtrees.orgupdated 4/14/2003